Tracing the roots of Urdu in India and Pakistan

Rakhshanda JalilAuthor Rakhshanda Jalil, best known for her book ‘Invisible City: The hidden Monuments of India’, has been one of the frontrunners in the movement to create awareness for Hindi-Urdu literature in India. Having come to the field of writing as a translator in 1992, she had published a series of translated works before moving to the fray of critical writing and then increasingly veering towards academic pieces, biographies, historiographies and even English fiction.

Given this large oeuvre of works, what really interests Jalil are biographies and books that require rigorous amounts of research. She recently completed her book on Rashid Jahan, an Indian writer, a member of the Communist party and the Progressive Writers’ Association. “It was then I realised that this is what I enjoy doing. I like to locate writers in a certain context,” she says. At the moment, she is working on a biography on an Urdu poet, Sardar Jafri to be published by Oxford University Press.

At the recently concluded Bangalore Literature Festival, Jalil took part in a panel discussion that traced the roots of Urdu in India and Pakistan and also mapped its future. About the state of the language, she notes, “This whole business of script , going on for the past 60 or 80 years, where people are saying it has be written in Devanagari is contributing to its downfall. When we learn Japanese or Russian or Chinese, we take the trouble to learn their script. With Urdu, why do we want to take the easy way out? This is just doing more harm than good.”

Being a proponent of translating works from Urdu to English and making it available for the masses, she does feel that the essence of the language is most often lost in the process. “There is no way you can say that what you are translating is 100% right,” she says. In a language as disparate as Urdu and English or Hindi for that matter, not only the resonances or speech patterns differ but also the way of constructing sentences. Hence as a translator you have to work within these limitations and put out a work that is sincere and sensible, she says.

Childhood, they say, has a very strong impact on a writer’s psyche and it is true in Jalil’s case. Having grown up in a house filled with books, taught by a mother who retired as a librarian and having people who talked about books and gave books as birthday gifts, she was blessed. She adds,  “When I was in the eighth grade, I got a book called ‘The Exile’ by a French existentialist writer as a birthday gift. When most children got Enid Blyton books, I was encouraged to read books from different genres. That, in a way, drew me to writing and if I hadn’t been a writer I would have done something else in writing.”

Incidentally, Jalil started her career, first as a teacher and then as an editor in the publishing industry. She agrees, “I have felt words. I write them now. But I have known them all throughout.”

First published in The New Indian Express on September 30, 2014

Categories: Articles- New Indian Express, Books, Culture, Interviews | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘The word difficult doesn’t exist to me’

Shobhaa De

Writer and columnist Shobhaa De has nothing but praise for the literary environment in Bangalore. Having been part of Bangalore Literature Festival, the city’s uber event to celebrate the written word, De maintains that Bangalore has a very vibrant core, far removed from the IT tag it enjoys. “One thing that we cannot and should not lose sight of is the rich literary tradition that the state has always enjoyed over several hundred years. And Bangalore, in particular, being the hub of Karnataka, is a city which is way way beyond just a IT hub,” she states.

She notes that a literary festival here was overdue and she is glad that it is run by people who have genuine level of commitment and passion to provide a platform for diverse opinions, diverse points of view, debate, dissent and more. 

On freedom of expression

De has been quite vocal about issues plaguing the country, especially those concerning women. Yes, she admits that her writing has, time and again, drawn criticism from various quarters, but that doesn’t deter her. “The word difficult doesn’t exist to me. To tell the truth and to tell it fearlessly is every human being’s right. And we should take full advantage of being a part of a democracy, where our freedom, the constitution guarantees, will not be curtailed if there’s something worth fighting for.” Of course there will be people in the world who have more clout, who are more powerful, who want to harm you, she observes. But then again, that’s the test of your own character, of who you are, what you believe in. “Isn’t that the price worth paying?,” she asks emphatically.

On UR Ananthamurthy

This year, the festival commemorated UR Ananthamurthy, one of the exemplars of Kannada literature. De has her own experience to recount about the great storyteller. “We were on the panel at the last edition of Bangalore Lit Fest. And I like how fiery, feisty, articulate and unafraid he was in voicing his opinions. Not all of them were accepted, even by a very informed audience and crowd. Despite that, he was a giant as a thinker, as an iconic litterateur, who broke so many shackles, so many rules, freed so many people from their limited thinking and limited imagination.”

On writing

“I write every day of my life,” she declares, “I write for weekly columns, blogs, Twitter — writing on every level defines me and consumes me and that’s the way I want it to be always.” She is looking to start a new book soon. But she’s not sure what it will be about. “It’s only when an idea is about to explode inside my head and makes life unbearable for me, that I actually start the book. Because the idea has to be powerful enough for me to want to write it with that sense of passion and intensity.”

On the recent brouhaha on ‘ethical journalism’

Shobhaa De has gone on record, on her blog and on Twitter, about the recent spat between Deepika Padukone and a leading newspaper. Most of her comments stress that there is nothing wrong with sensational stories and the issue has been blown out of proportion by the actress who she once termed is “overrated and average-looking”. But when we asked her about it, she refused to comment, saying, “I write for the newspaper and I don’t have anything to say against them.”

An abridged version published in The New Indian Express on September 29, 2014

Categories: Articles- New Indian Express, Books, Interviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Follett tweaks beststeller formula

Ken FollettIn the world of books, Ken Follett is the stuff of legends. His writing is rooted in real events, be it the 1978 novel Eye of the Needle, a taut thriller about World War II espionage or Pillars of the Earth about the great medieval cathedrals of Europe. He weaves stories that imitate life. His latest project in the Century Trilogy, a collection of historical novels chronicling life around the world wars, is another set piece in his literary game.

Edge of Eternity

On September 16, the book Edge of Eternity was released in India by Pan Macmillan and Amazon India. Continuing the story in Fall of Giants and Winter of the World, the book traces lives of five families through the Cold war and civil-rights movements. In an email interaction, Ken Follett remarks about the premise of the book, “The terrible thing about the Cold War was that it could have been the end of the human race. If there was a nuclear holocaust, with the Americans bombing all the communist countries and the Russians bombing all the capitalist countries, we would all be dead. So although it never came to that, there was the constant fear during this period that nuclear war would break out and the human race would end.”

Moving from thrillers to historical fiction

‘Pillars of the Earth’ emerged from his profound interest and fascination with medieval cathedrals and the people who built them. To his surprise and everybody else’s, the book became even more popular than his thrillers. “It seemed that readers would enjoy historical novels from me as well as enjoy thrillers from me. So that’s how the switch came about and eventually I decided that historical novels were more fun to write and more pleasing to the readers too,” he tells us.

Then, after completing World Without End, Follett admits that he thought to himself, ‘I must do something like this again because people like it so much.’ He thought he should write another long historical novel but he didn’t want to write another medieval story; he wanted to write about a historical period that was dramatic. “That’s when I thought, why not write about the 20th century because it’s the most violent era in human history. We had two world wars and we had the threat of nuclear war. And also, it is the century that tells us where we come from.” And soon, as he was thinking about it, he realized it would be much better to write three books instead of one, a book for each of the great wars of the century.

His predilection for strong female characters

Ken Follett was one of the first writers to use strong women characters in his novels like Lucy Rose, the hero of Eye of the needle who kills the German spy at the end of the story. Ken notes, “That was very unusual in the 1970s when I wrote that book. It was unheard of. But nowadays it isn’t so unusual.”

He attributes this change to the difference in attitudes to women and the evolving role that women play in society. He opines, “Fifty years ago women were considered subordinate. So in the novels the men were more important. But during my lifetime, I have seen women question, ‘Wait a minute. Why should women be secondary to men?” This change was reflected in literature too.

The television world came knocking

His book, On Wings of Eagles, a true story about two employees who were rescued from Iran during the revolution of 1979, was turned into a miniseries and The Pillars of the Earth became an eight hour television show. And the Century Trilogy will also soon be made into a television series. But as an author, he finds the process of adapting books into television shows “thrilling but also a little nerve–wrecking.” He adds, “It makes me very nervous because I have been very careful writing the book to make sure that it all makes sense. There are no boring bits, the plot is logical and the characters are interesting. And then I give this book to somebody else, a television producer and he takes it apart. He has a script written which is different from my book. Well, he has to because he has to tell a story in pictures not words. I worry that when they change it they won’t be as careful as I was and they won’t do it very well. But, to be honest, in the end if the television series is well made, I get to look at the screen and see the characters I invented played by very good actors.”

Evolving as a writer

The bestselling author has been writing for over four decades now, having taken to writing when he realised he didn’t love newspapers. He recalls, “I wasn’t a terrible journalist but I wasn’t a great journalist either. Fiction was what I really liked. And it took me a few years to realize that my destiny was not in newspapers, it was in books.”

He went to work with a publisher soon after. And although his first books were not very successful — in fact he wrote ten books before he had a bestseller — he managed to carve out success for himself in the literary world.

Recently on a Reddit AMA (Ask me anything), he remarked, “What does writing represent? It’s my life! It’s what I do all day, every day.” And his wonderfully crafted, genre bending and ambitious stories, that emerge from his knowledge of the world and life, has delighted many a fan around the world.

Affiliate Links

The book is available for purchase on Amazon

A version of this was published in The New Indian Express on September 18, 2014

Categories: Articles- New Indian Express, Books, Interviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bad News Barrett wants his Intercontinental Championship title back

He is celebrated as the purveyor of ‘Bad News’, the powerhouse who has serenaded fans of WWE the world over with his “booms” amid punk rock music, his trash talk and his signature finishing move, The Bull Hammer Elbow. Now this superstar, Bad News Barrett is on an India tour and was recently in Bangalore too. The agenda? To promote wrestling in India, WWE and its various programmes like SmackDown and Raw.

Bad-News-BarrettDuring the WWE tour, which Bangalore has seen after two long years, Barrett even interacted with children from the NGO, The Open Door Foundation. Even as he reveals to us how their open-hearted enthusiasm and knowledge of WWE trivia floored him, he is quite kicked about how big WWE is in the country and how crazy and wild the fans are. He enthuses, “We have tons of fans here so it is a great opportunity to come out here and say hello to them. We always want to build our relationship with fans around the world and here in India especially, it has been a long time since we have been here. So we are all very excited to come out here again and let the people in India come and watch us perform. In fact, this is the kind of environment I would like to perform in. I have to say, the audience here in India for WWE is just going to grow.”

We ask him, after years of going back and forth, will WWE finally come to India? While he doesn’t confirm anything, this trip strongly suggests that the country will have its own Indian version soon, depending on TenSports India, which has just inked a deal with WWE till 2019. However, Barrett is quick to tell us that a special video game is on the cards, the worldwide release date of which is October 31. “It’s called WWE 2K15. I have played on the advance copy of it. It’s incredible actually, the realism, the graphics on this one is a huge step above what we have seen previously. They have brought in new calendars, monitoring systems to pick up all the minutiae about our faces and movements. It will be like watching TV,” he tells us animatedly.

Growing up in England, Barrett was trained in bare-knuckle brawls which was how he got into the wrestling arena. His rise to eminence was noted by all when he won the WWE NXT in the first season, setting the momentum for the championship. Recalling those early days, he opines, “NXT is completely different now than when I won it. Then, it was almost like a reality show. The winner became a WWE Superstar. Whereas now, it is a developmental system which has produced great talents like The Shield, The Wyatt Family, Bo Dallas and people like that, which is good. WWE universe is going to get access to these superstars of the future.” Occasionally some of them also come to him for advice, to learn about his talking ability, the way to woo the fans. But for the most part, he says, “They have great trainers down at Orlando who give them what they exactly need to know.”

It’s been a while since we have watched him on television, Barrett having been out of action after sustaining a shoulder injury during a match with Jack Swagger. What was disappointing even more than the injury was that he had to forfeit his Intercontinental Champion title. But he will return in November and he tells us, he will return with a vengeance. “I want my title back,” he exclaims and adds, “I don’t care who has the title, whether it is Dolph Ziggler, The Miz or anybody else. I will claim it back. And after that, I want to go to the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.”

Categories: Articles- New Indian Express, Interviews | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A tribute to the Hindi film industry

Decoding Bollywood

Title: Decoding Bollywood: Stories of 15 Film Directors
Author: Sonia Golani
Publisher: Westland
ISBN: 978-9384030308
Genre: Non-Fiction, Films, Biographies & Autobiographies
Pages: 202

For people who have grown up watching Hindi movies, Sonia Golani’s new book, Decoding Bollywood: Stories of 15 Film Directors (Westland), is like hitting a pot of gold. As the name suggests, the book traces the lives of 15 filmmakers in the film industry from greats like Prakash Jha, Sudhir Mishra and Mahesh Bhatt to youngsters like Anurag Basu, Kunal Kohli and Zoya Akhtar.

We wonder, how did she draw up the list of the directors to profile? Sonia responds, “I wanted to keep the book very contemporary and include all the people who had tremendous achievements to their credit.”

So in the book, Sonia has picked filmmakers across different genres and age groups. She covers stories of those who came from film families like Farah Khan, Rohit Shetty, Mahesh Bhatt and Zoya Akhtar to those who were armed with film training like Prakash Jha and Sudhir Mishra. Sonia has interviewed advertising professionals like Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and R Balki, who used their experience as a springboard to gain a toehold in the industry, and documentary filmmakers like Kabir Khan and Nandita Das. The book also includes chapters on how television helped directors like Anurag Basu, Kunal Kohli, Vipul Shah and Ashutosh Gowariker to make outstanding films.

Not attempting to critique the directors’ films or get into the technical aspects of filmmaking, Sonia takes a journalistic approach to delve into the personal lives of the directors. For instance, Mahesh Bhatt opens up to her as he recounts his early days in the industry, navigating his personal traumas and using cinema to give expression to his thoughts. Endearing stories of directors like Kunal Kohli, who in a leap of faith, joined the Yash Raj conglomerate also find their place in the book. Sonia has also managed to get the directors’ views on Bollywood’s futile dream of the Oscars. As Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, scoffing at this, says, “We can make the best films in the world and should demand respect from the world. The idea is not to chase the Oscars but to take our stories to the world.”

In the preface, Sonia writes that Bollywood was an integral part of her growing up years having watching iconic movies like Sholay, Satte pe Satta, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Arth, etc. She affirms, “I have lived in Mumbai all my life. So I wanted to know how the industry functions and its finer intricacies.” That last year Indian cinema completed 100 years gave her another compelling reason to write a book on films. “It is my tribute to the Hindi film industry and also to my city, Mumbai,” she proclaims.

Affiliate Links:

Buy the book from Amazon or Flipkart

First published in The New Indian Express on September 9, 2014

Categories: Articles- New Indian Express, Books, Interviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Great Asian Game Changers

Title: Makers of Modern Asia
Author: Edited by Ramachandra Guha
Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 978-0674365414
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biographies & Autobiographies, History and Politics, Geography
Published: August 2014
Pages: 400

The economic progress that Asia has witnessed in the last few decades has made the Western world sit up and take notice. The 21st century belongs to Asia and especially to India and China, which are seeing an increased prominence in world affairs. In fact, this century has been dubbed the Asian century just like the 19th century belonged to Europe. However, according to historian and eminent thinker Ramchandra Guha, it is limiting to see this development in solely economic terms and assess it in terms of the gross national product, per capita income and global trade alone. His idea is to broaden this understanding of development by focusing on the political game changers who have charted the path to growth and progress. His latest work is a testament to this fact.

Makers of Modern Asia 

Makers of Modern Asia (Harvard University Press) edited by Ramchandra Guha is a collection of 11 essays that aims to provide a socio-historical context to Asia’s economic advancement. “The essential thesis of the book is that in this fascination, obsession and enchantment with the economic growth of specific Asian countries, we have forgotten the political preconditions of that economic growth,” says Guha.

Through each of its essays, the volume draws a portrait of nationalists who helped craft their respective political systems, which in turn provided a fillip to their economic struggle. Listed in the book are outstanding exemplars of 19th and 20th century political change in Asia.

The book includes Chinese stalwarts like Mao Zedong, leader of the Communist Revolution, Zhou Enlai, his close ally and confidant, Deng Xiaoping, who was purged by Mao and went on to reshape Chinese economic history with his revisionist policies and Chiang Kai-shek, whose Kuomintang party formed the basis of modern Taiwan. Other portraits come from India and cover Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Indira Gandhi, all of whom played crucial roles in guiding India toward independence. Then there are essays about Vietnam nationalist Ho Chi Minh, Indonesia’s Sukarno, Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew and Pakistan’s Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

The book opens with an excerpt from the work, The Problem of China, which was written by philosopher Bertrand Russell in 1922 after spending about six months teaching philosophy in China. Russell had declared, “All the world will be vitally affected by the development of Chinese affairs, which may well prove a decisive factor, for good or evil, during the next two centuries.” At a time when China was desperately fragmented and fraught with conflict-ridden relations with European powers and Japan, this seemed quite far-fetched. He ended the book by outlining three reforms — the establishment of an orderly government, industrial development under Chinese control and the spread of education. And true to the precocious prediction, a few years later, China was on the way to dominance after the nationalist movement started by Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek and continued by Mao Zedong’s communists culminated with the unifying of China.

And this is equally relevant for other countries as well. Guha adds, “Younger Indians think that the Indian story began in 1991 with Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh. But what these visionaries did was open up the economy. The benefits of opening up the economy would never have been possible if India was not a unified nation and did not have a democratic political system.”

The territorial unification of India in a democratic template with religious and cultural pluralism was the work of the leaders, without whom none of the economic growth of the last 20 years would have happened. The same is the case with Vietnam, Indonesia and other erstwhile colonies who had to recover their sovereignty before they could even think of meeting the social and economical challenges of the modern world. Of crucial importance is the inter-Asian understanding espoused by many of the leaders that is brought to the fore in the book. This idea has significant urgency in the current times. “There was a constant exchange of ideas by leaders visiting different nations. Nowadays, we hesitate to look to our Asian counterparts. Instead, we rely on the west. I hope that this book leads to some reflection on inter-Asian understanding in each of the countries. As we move forward, I believe that it is very important that there is increased intellectual and cultural exchange between different Asian countries and I hope this edited volume makes a small contribution on this front.”

Unlike Guha’s earlier work, Makers of Modern India which was an anthology of original writing, the current book is a compilation of biographies put together by Pakistani, Australian, British and Norwegian historians who are experts in their fields. He adds, “I also chose to go with biographies because it a massively under-appreciated genre in the country.”

When he edited Makers of Modern India, Guha had faced a barrage of questions regarding the selection. He recalls, “The leftists were very angry that I hadn’t included any Marxists. A friend told me that when I visited Bengal next, I would have to wear a helmet because there was no mention of Subhash Chandra Bose as one of the architects of modern India. And although there were as many as six Maharashtrians in the book, they were not satisfied. Because Agarkar and Savarkar had been excluded from the treatise. This, I think, is an occupational hazard while creating an anthology.”

Armed with this experience, Guha knows that questions will be raised this time around too. And he is prepared for the inevitable. “For instance, I know people will ask me why I haven’t included Tagore. Well, it is because he did not run a state despite having a great intellectual impact and shaping the ideas of Gandhi and Tagore. People will also wonder why there is no mention of Jinnah. It was essentially because he died very soon after independence. The Pakistan of today is very far from the Pakistan Jinnah envisaged.” In the same breath Guha also mentions that although the India of today has directly diverged from what Gandhi hoped, in some recognizable features, Gandhi would perhaps have been glad to be a part of India today — he would have given his stamp of approval to the rise of the Dalit movement and freedom of the press among other things. “But in the case of Pakistan it is different. It is much better shaped by people like Bhutto,” he adds.

Then Indira Gandhi is the only woman profiled although he had considered including an essay on Aung San Suu Kyi. “However, the last chapter of her career is not yet written. Again, the only person profiled in this book who is alive is Lee Kuan Yew,” Guha opines.

Another controversial point, he notes, is that there is no Japanese leader, though Japan is colossally important to the continent. “There is no Japanese leader because the politics of Japan post World War II is massively dominated by America. Their political system, their constitution was written by the Americans and there has been no Japanese politician who has stamped his authority on the nation in the way Nehru, Sukarno or Bhutto did and including a pre-war fascist did not seem appealing.”

The book in its entirety helps the reader understand the rise of Asia by offering an insight into its history and political lives — the anti-colonial revolutions, the process of consolidation, the sustainable political systems envisaged, their economic strategies and the attitude of the post-colonial state and its leaders to traditional beliefs which provided a backdrop to the economic growth we have seen over the last 30 or 40 years.

Affiliate Links

Available for purchase on Amazon and Flipkart.

First published in The New Indian Express on September 2, 2014

Categories: Articles- New Indian Express, Books, Culture, Interviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In conversation with graphic artist, Seth Tobocman

A few days ago, I got a chance to talk to Seth Tobocman, the brain behind the comic magazine – World War 3 Illustrated. Of course I was nervous. I was going to talk to one of the most renowned graphic artists from America, the one who has championed many radical causes, whose comics delve into subjects that are real — be it political unrest, global warming or monetary crises. The interview was in relation to a visual demonstration he was going to conduct at the Rangoli Metro Arts Centre. The performance, he told me over the phone, was going to be based on the cultural concert (Cartoon Concert) method developed by cartoonist and illustrator, Vaughn Bode. Which meant that he would use comic strips and fuse them with PowerPoint slides and perform the text. And the themes would include “various issues of importance at the moment like the Palestinian conflict, global warming, social justice and homelessness in the USA, among others.” 

During the conversation that went on for over an hour, he held forth on his stay in Bangalore, his comics, his comic creation process and the medium in general. 

On life in Bangalore

Seth travelled to Bangalore over a month ago as part of the T.A.J Residency programme, a collaborative project between visual artists and gallerists. This gave him a chance to showcase his sketches on his upcoming comic book entitled A biography of Leonard Weinglass, an illustration of the life and works of a US criminal defense lawyer, and also interact with other artists from the country like Orijit Sen and Appupen. He also took part in a demonstration against rape that took place at Town Hall, a few weeks ago.

“The people in Bangalore are very fascinating. They did not hesitate to come up to me and talk about my work. For instance, two days back, I was drawing the street life around a temple at around 1 am.

Three boys came up to me and struck a conversation,” he says.  Of particular interest to him is the traffic in the city. “Maybe I will plan a comic piece around my life in Bangalore, ” he says.

On his creative process

“I sometimes complete a piece overnight, that is if the deadlines are stringent. If not, it takes atleast a day or two for me to complete a page. I first think of a plot, then come upon a structure. An important aspect is the rhythm which is akin to that of poetry. A comic artist should also pay attention to the visual construction, representation, of how much you can extract from the plot.”

On art that stirs reactions

The political comic book ‘World War 3’ marked the start of his career as an artist. The book came to fruition in 1979 after he and his friend, Peter Kruper decided to self publish a book that became a beacon for anti war propaganda. “I grew up reading comics and was fascinated by them. But then, there came a point when I realised that all comics were similar, they didn’t have any new plotlines. This compelled us (Seth and Peter) to create our own comic book.” Over the years, the magazine evolved, becoming a series and encompassing more than just it’s initial premise which was ‘concern over nuclear war’.

Seth is of the belief that comics are a great way to communicate with absolutely anyone and hence tries his best to ensure his comic books highlight relevant subjects and highlight his social observations. “Comics are very simplistic in nature and easy to understand,” he notes. And hence, like World War 3, Seth has gone on to publish many other radical works like ‘Understanding the Crash’ — a meditation on the sub-mortgage crisis that crashed Wall Street, ‘You don’t have to f**k people over to survive’ which is an attack on the morality, politics and social conditions of the Reagan era. Then there’s ‘Disaster and Resistance’, describing the disastrous events of the 21st century: 9-11, wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine and many others. And all of his comics have one common goal, epitomising these very words that described the 43 edition of World War 3– “No idea should be unspeakable. No emotion can be forever repressed. No one is above criticism. But critique, speech, and expression, are only meaningful in relation to the goals of liberating humanity and preserving nature.”

On the future of comic books

Where does he see the comic industry heading towards in the next decade? He is sanguine as he answers, “It is a very interesting period for this medium. Back in America, I find a lot of artists from Kyro and Lebanon making interesting stuff. There is a whole new wave of comic expression which is only good for the industry.”

First appeared in The New Indian Express

Categories: Articles- New Indian Express, Books, Culture, Interviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘I make music because I love it. Not for fame’ — singer Manjeet Ral

Here’s my interview with singer Manjeet Ral of the Singh is King fame and a member of the erstwhile band ‘RDB’ — an acronym for Rhythm, Dhol, Bass — , about his latest music ensemble ‘Manj Musik’ and upcoming collaborations. 

Manjeet has just completed a project for Dr Cabbie, a comedy caper co-produced by Salman Khan. Set in Canada, it is the story of a young Indian doctor who embarks on a coming-of-age journey. And keeping with the Indian-ness of the movie is the title track ‘Daal Makhani’ created by Manjeet. “They loved the work I had done on Shera di Kaum from Speedy Singhs (2011). Hence they asked me to produce the title song for this movie and one other song. The title track fuses all the fun elements. It will officially go live on YouTube on August 19 and subsequently on TV.” 

Apart from this, he has collaborations with Vishal-Shekhar and Sunidhi Chauhan lined up as well, he tells us.

Manj Musik was born a little over a year ago, following the demise of his brother, Kuly. For Manjeet, RDB was a symbol of Kuly’s musical prowess, his dedication and their combined effort. So he didn’t want to show disrespect to his brother by continuing the band on his own. “RDB was intrinsically what Kuly and I created. I didn’t want to take credit for RDB’s music,” he says. 

Ask him to describe his music style and he quips, “It is a good mix of western and eastern beats. My sound is influenced by everything from hip-hop and house to rock and classical genres. I feel my music is very experimental. Very futuristic.”

Having spent his childhood in the United Kingdom and then relocating to Toronto, Manjeet enjoys a significant clout in the international music circles. He has worked with quite a few international names, most notably the likes of Ludacris, Snoop Lion, LMFAO, T-Pain and Public Enemy. “It was an amazing experience. They are very professional in their work and they taught me a lot about music,” says the star, who is also the ambassador in India for 50 Cent’s brand of headphones ‘SMS Audio’.

But in no way, he feels, he has reached the pinnacle of success yet. He avers, “I am still climbing the ladder and I have a lot to achieve before I can say my music is the best. I make music because I love this, not for fame. I do it for the people who come to listen to my music and I feel accomplished when they appreciate my efforts.”

Manj Musik comprises of Manjeet Ral, his wife Nindy Kaur and Raftaar (who doubles up as the lyricist). To know more, visit

Published in The New Indian Express on August 18, 2014

Categories: Articles- New Indian Express, Culture, Interviews, Music & Dance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Of music that transcends various genres; here’s DJ Funkagenda, the DJ who takes life one day at a time

Funkagenda aka Adam Walder

Funkagenda aka Adam Walder

UK-based music producer and DJ Funkagenda’s music doesn’t belong to one genre. There’s a bit of house, techno, progressive, dubstep, drum and bass– it is ‘dance music,’ something that every music lover can enjoy. After a performance in Mumbai, he was in Bangalore on August 17 as part of the Vh1 Supersonic Club Night tour. “My set was something different — something with bigger builds and drops,” he says about his gig and goes on to talk more about his music in general.

Over the span of his music career, which began when he was 20 years old, he has collaborated with many renowned artistes like Fatboy Slim, Black Eyed Peas (for the album ‘The E.N.D.’), Basement Jaxx, Moby, and Dirty Vegas. And then there are the festivals and clubs he has played at across the globe. He recalls an interesting experience when he was in India a few years ago. He says, “Once after a show, I had gone to bed and was sleeping soundly when I was woken up by a knocking sound. I answered the door, and it was two guys who had been at my show. They had snuck into the hotel, found my room and wanted me sign posters and take pictures.”

Funkagenda aka Adam Walder had always been musically inclined. His favourite memory from his childhood days was when he would watch his grandfather work on a few backing tracks. His musician grandfather, along with his dad, was his biggest musical influence. He reminisces, “Once during the music sessions, when my granddad went out of the room, I started playing the notes. When he heard me play, he exclaimed, ‘Wow, was that you? You should start playing.’ That Christmas he got me a keyboard and the next thing I knew I was completely immersed in it and learnt to play other musical instruments too.”

As a young boy, he played as a keyboard player in various rock and jazz bands and a bass player in a folk band. But it wasn’t until he started making dance music that he really knew what he wanted to do with his life. “I love the energy of the dance floor and the way the music moves people,” he opines.

His original mix, ‘One day at a time’ is his personal favourite as it was written at a time when his life went through an upheaval. He recounts, “I used to have an alcohol problem when I was younger. When I moved out to the states, I was homesick. Moreover with all the changes that were happening in the music industry then, I began to doubt myself and where I was. It was a really difficult time and I started seeing a counselor about it. And then there was this moment when I just said to myself, ‘I’m not going to drink again’. And literally the day after that, I wrote ‘One Day At A Time’. It was a turning point in my life.”

Funkagenda has already completed two shows in London and Lithuania. After the India tour, he will be jetting to Los Angeles for quick shows in Orlando and Houston, before driving up to the ‘Burning Man’, a week long event held in the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada. He adds, “I am also currently working on an album, so that’s the main thing on my plate right now. I also have a lot of exciting tours coming up.”

Published in The New Indian Express on August 16, 2014.

Categories: Articles- New Indian Express, Culture, Events, Interviews, Music & Dance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Hindi film — Rang De Basanti that sparked urban patriotism is now a book

“Zindagi jeeney ke do hi tareekey hote hain… Ek jo ho raha hai, honey do, bardaasht karte jaao. Ya phir zimmedari uthao ussey badalne ki”



(There are only two primary choices in life… One is to accept things the way they are. The second is to accept responsibility to change them.) 

— DJ, Rang De Basanti, 2006

When Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s cult classic Rang De Basanti released in the year 2006, it redefined the meaning of freedom and carved its place in history as a cinematic and social turning point. And It dared to raise an important question, ‘What is patriotism?’ Carrying flags and singing the national anthem on Independence Day and Republic Day? The film attempted to lay bare how the youth felt about the nation.

A protest scene from the movie

A protest scene from the movie

By drawing parallels between two periods — the freedom fighters that fought the British Raj and young Indians who are fighting the vile corruption in the present day — the movie shook the country’s collective conscience, sparking campaigns asking for justice for victims of unaccountable criminality like 34-year-old Jessica Lal, Nitish Katara and Priyadarshini Mattoo. To some extent, it also spurred the anti-corruption campaign initiated by Anna Hazare which saw participation from scores of young Indians. 

Now, the makers of this cult movie have turned the film into a book, ‘The shooting script of Rang De Basanti- A Generation Awakens’ published by Om Books International. “With a movie like RDB that entered the collective subconscious, the book was shouting to be written,” reveals director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra in a telephonic conversation. And for a film still holds relevance against the backdrop of the current socio-economic status-quo, the book aims to keep the film’s going for years to come.

The book which is published by Om Books International

The book which is published by Om Books International

How the movie came to being

As we flip through the 241-page book, we are taken back to the early days, when the makers came upon the idea of a film that painted a picture of the state of affairs in India. Back in the late 90s, when Rakeysh directed commercials he met Kamlesh Pandey. He worked with Kamlesh on a docu-feature ‘Mamuliram: The Little Big Man’ which took them to the villages of Gujarat. Upon realising their common love for the armed revolution, they were determined to make a film titled ‘The Young Guns of India’. But the project did not take off. Years later, in 2001 they once again set out with an aim to make a film, this time it was to tell the story of young freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, Ramprasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah Khan, Rajguru and Sukhdev, who no one from the younger generation identified with.

The celebrated director, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra

The celebrated director, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra


Rakeysh reminisces the early days. He says, “I would never write a script that didn’t express my thoughts. Be it Aks which was a supernatural thriller, Delhi 6, a portrait of old Delhi or Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, a biopic on Milkha Singh (rooted in the horror of Partition), all my movies have aspects from my life. My grandmother used to tell me mythical stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata every night. But at the end of it, she used to break the news that Ram and Ravan don’t exist. ‘It is all within you,’ she used to tell us, ‘The good and the bad reside within us.’ Growing up, I heard stories from my relatives about how they grew up in a refugee camp, how they used to visit Purana Qila, the oldest structure in Delhi. All these things were very vivid in my memory. I have always believed, if you want to be a writer, it is your passion, your job and your responsibility to tell stories that move you.And in this process of storytelling, you positively affect the life of another person.”

So RDB was a result of many memories. For instance, when he was in Airforce School, he remembered seeing a life-size MiG 21 fighter plane in the foyer. Years later, he watched a documentary called Coffins in Tricolor by NDTV which exposed a corruption scam involving MiG 21s. Both these incidents became an important aspect of the movie. Then there’s another from his college days at Delhi University. In 1980, the atmosphere there was politically charged as the Emergency had come to an end in 1977. So he and his friends used to talk about how they could change the country. RDB became a story of these friends.

Mehra is currently working on three projects, one of which is Mirziya inspired by Mirza Sahiban for which he will begin shooting in October. Where does he see Indian Cinema going in the next decade? Will we have more films like Rang De Basanti, films that inspire and change lives? Will we have more films that narrate real-life stories, of people like Milkha Singh and Mary Kom. He answers, “I hope so. There is so much that India has to offer. We need movies that showcase India to the world. Cinema always evolves. In the 50s or 60s, the movies spoke of the state of the country, reflecting the poverty, the unemployment, followed by an era of escapism. Once again, cinema is seeing a new form of expression. Our socio-economic milieu has taken a turn. Cinema cannot function in isolation. It has to reflect the society.” In the same breath, he tells us that there is a lot the Indian cinema can do in this regard. “India has a very rich history. We need more period films, movies that speak of our mythology. Then we need films that focus on the ever-important topic of gender bias and films that go beyond the mindless item numbers, the urban ethos — how it affects a young boy or girl, pressure of studies — how children get bogged down by the pressure of achieving a certain percentage, of how education is now targeted towards merely getting a job.”

Yes, the country definitely needs meaningful cinema, movies that catalyse compelling discussions and characters that inspire the nation.

Originally published in The New Indian Express on August 14, 2014.


Categories: Articles- New Indian Express, Culture, Interviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: